Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Ahead of Its Time

In 1847, General John Bidwell was working for John Sutter. One year later, he turned prospector and made a fortune. By 1850, he traded his gold for 26,000 acres, planted wheat, and planned a new town--Chico, CA.

Bidwell had nearly completed building his Mansion, a beautiful, three-story, 26-room Victorian House, in 1868, when he married Annie Kennedy, 18 years his junior. The overall style of the three-story brick structure is that of an Italian Villa.

When completed, the Bidwell Mansion featured the most modern plumbing, gas lighting and water systems. The General had a 300-gallon water tank installed on the third floor that could be filled by a pump system that he developed. With this tank in his home and the effect of gravity, he was able to have sinks with running water in all the bedrooms and bathrooms in the home--about 20 years before any other residents of Chico. (Note the elephant shaped toilet.)

In 12 locations throughout the home, Bidwell had a key that when turned would ring a corresponding bell in the kitchen. Each key had its own unique sounding bell--a pairing that anyone who worked in the home had to be able (within one day of being hired) to identify from nearby rooms or the floor above the bells and respond to--quickly.

At one point, the Mansion was a women's dormitory, and the "house mother" cut the wires to the bells after being harrassed by the women ringing the bells at all hours of the night. Other residents of the Mansion, were a college men's basketball team and students enrolled in art classes held on the third floor.

The home had a unique cooling system. The stairway to the third floor provided a clear "route" to the third floor for warm air. Here vents in the roof could be opened and the warmer air would escape. The design of the home was so efficient that the home would be 5-20 degrees cooler than the temperature outside.

It was the third floor that was to be the location of the ballroom, since Bidwell enjoyed dancing and hosting parties. However, the ballroom upstairs never felt the step of waltzing feet, since Bidwell's wife, Annie, was a prohibitionist who did not believe in drinking liquor or dancing. (Her influence on her husband must have been significant, because John ran for President on the Prohibitionist ticket.) The third floor was converted to six additional guest rooms, plus a private office for General Bidwell.

I was interested in the typewriter on the General's desk.

Some of the furniture was original to the Mansion, but others, like this organ, were representative of the period.

The oven was kept heated 24 hours a day, so that it was always heated when needed.

These were some of the carriages owned by the Bidwells.

The 12,000 square foot Mansion was built at a cost of $56,000 in 1868.

It is magnificent.

No comments: